EU’s Right to Repair – Updates for Product Design

The Right to Repair is a policy movement aiming for longer-lasting products. Right to Repair Legislation can force producers to enable product repairs in various ways. How can Right to Repair influence product design?
Right to Repair_Sustainable Product Design_Ecochain

The Right to Repair is a policy movement aiming for longer-lasting products. Right to Repair Legislation can force producers to enable product repairs in various ways. And empower consumers by offering repair information and DIY options. 

The lifetime of our electronic appliances is generally lower than what they’re originally designed for. This disappoints consumers as they have to pay (often a lot) for new products again. But it’s also a bummer for our environment: producing the new replacement products depletes natural resources and heavily impacts the environment. 

It feels very unnecessary – right? 

The problem is: while product repairs would save environmental impacts – producers generally make more profit from selling new products instead. This shows in current product design and the (lack and inconvenience of) repair services offered. 

We need regulation to move away from the current make-use-discard, “linear economy”. This is exactly where the Right to Repair comes into play. This article explains:

  • What Right to Repair is;
  • How Right to Repair might integrate into EU policy;
  • How businesses can use Right to Repair to reduce their product’s environmental impact.

What is the “Right to Repair”?

The Right to Repair is a concept. International and European political movements aim to bring this concept into their countries’ legislation. The main aims include:

  • Better availability and quality of spare parts, 
  • Repair information, and software updates; 
  • Products are designed for future repair and planned disuse is banned. 

Current EU legislation’s “attempt to repair”

To a limited extent, the ideas of the “Right to Repair” are already present in current EU law:

  • Consumer rights are protected with the legal guarantee period (part of the sale of goods directive). In case a product was sold in a faulty state, sellers and producers need to provide a free repair, replacement, or (partial) reimbursement.
  • Car manufacturers must provide diagnostic equipment, and repair-/ maintenance- information to official repairers since 2007, according to the type-approval legislation.
  • The Ecodesign directive (2009/125/EC) enforces for some products: minimum requirements for spare part availability and delivery, and availability of maintenance information to professional repairers. 
  • The Repairability of products is evaluated positively when classifying “sustainable investments” under the EU Taxonomy Regulation

However, these regulations don’t do much for the circular economy. They don’t empower consumers to repair a product that breaks down in their possession. 

Repairability requirements now only exist for a few products, and planned disuse (planned short product life) isn’t tackled. Repairs remain costly and inconvenient. 

Summary: Right to Repair in upcoming EU regulation 

But there is ambition: the European Parliament has been calling for repair policies in several resolutions since 2004. 

Accordingly, the EU commission is developing several laws and policies for the coming years that include Right to Repair measures. And we summarized their official communication for you.

This overview covers general ideas, concrete Right-to-Repair-measures, and the implementation status of each plan. Keep in mind the different types of EU legislation

1. Updating the Ecodesign Directive

The Ecodesign directive is being amended. The general ideas: (1) products should last longer and be easier to repair. (2) Producers should be more responsible for waste prevention, and (3) there should be sustainable public procurement. 

The specific measures proposed: 

  • The new directive will cover “the broadest possible range of products” (p. 3)
  • It will require manufacturers (Article 21) and importers (Article 23) to make information on repair available (Article 7) to the end user. Potentially using product passports (Article 8). 
  • Status of measures: Proposal for a regulation

Additionally, legislation for two new product groups will be added to the Ecodesign directive:

a. Mobile phones and tablets could require better availability of commonly damaged parts, cost and ease of repair, and longer availability of software.
Specific measures proposed:

  • Products are designed in a way so that end-users can repair them. This may enter into force 18 months after the regulation is updated (Point 15, page 3.)
  • The list of spare parts might be revised or extended, allowing used or third-party parts. The time requirement for spare part availability will be updated. (Article 8)
  • Status of Legislation: Draft.

b. Computers and computer servers may require better repairability and longer lifetimes.  

  • Status of Legislation: Draft upcoming.

2. New Batteries regulation

The new EU Batteries regulation (2020) will cover – additionally to the currently covered End-of-Life-stage – the sourcing, production, performance, durability, and Greenhouse-gas emissions of batteries. 

The specific measures proposed: 

  • Measure 11, battery design requirements: potential policy measures are obligatory battery removability (medium ambition) or replaceability (high ambition). 
  • An electronic system that makes life-cycle and repair information available might be developed (Point 93). 
  • Status of regulation: Proposal for a regulation 

3. Amending the Sale of Goods Directive

The EU’s Sale of Goods Directive may be amended. It could make repair easier for consumers, and encourage the production of longer-lasting and repairable products. As a measure, the legal guarantee period could extend for new and second-hand products and established for repaired goods.

  • Status of the directive: Draft upcoming

4. Empowering consumers

Consumer empowerment plays a key role in the Right to Repair. Via amendments to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and/or the Consumer Rights Directive, or through a new stand-alone consumer protection instrument – the following requirements can be enforced: 

  • Providing consumers with reliable information on product durability and reparability
  • Better Availability of repair services, spare parts, and repair manuals
  • Longer availability of software updates and upgrades
  • Ban on early obsolescence and greenwashing
  • Status: Draft upcoming 

Furthermore, the EU might allow its member states to adjust their VAT tax to promote repairs. However, there are no concrete plans yet. 

How to apply Right to Repair in your business

We find Right-to-Repair a “rather vague concept”. But generally, we conclude that in the future:

  • Producers will likely have to make repair information more openly available
  • Products designed for repair will likely gain advantages

The exact rules follow after the proposals and are adopted as policy. For now, the best you can do is follow the legislative status of the proposals that apply to your business – and of course, we keep this article updated!

Product repairs benefit environmental footprint results

Even without the legal requirements, your business can already benefit from design for repairability. Because repairable products are usually “more sustainable”, as you extend a product’s life and comparatively fewer new products get produced. 

Using Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) in product design

To prove repairs benefit your product’s footprint to your customers – you can measure your products’ environmental impacts by performing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is thé scientific method to measure all potential environmental and human health impacts of a product. 

Your LCA results will most likely improve/look better compared to ‘standard products’ that haven’t implemented repairs. That’s because with increased product lifetime, the impact per lifetime decreases. Thus, you could tell your customers “This product has x % fewer impacts per year of use than comparable products”. 

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Published

December 30, 2022

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Author

Lena Nickel

Lena Nickel

Hi, I'm Lena. Researcher & writer at Ecochain. During my studies in Global Sustainability Science, LCA really captured my interest. It continues to fascinate me in my current Master in Energy Science, where I also conduct LCAs myself. I love researching & writing (and learning more!) about these crucial topics now for Ecochain's Knowledge Blog.

Editor

Zazala Quist

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